The start of a new year is a good time to think about how to move your business on. Jo Faragher outlines how you can target new markets and customers to help start 2018 in style.
One of the toughest aspects of running a small business is knowing how to turn your ambitions into reality. It’s one thing having a great business plan on paper, but making those plans happen requires determination and a willingness to keep trying. As we prepare for the year ahead, here are six tips to build successful growth strategies for 2018.
“Look at your existing contacts and the relationships you have where people might be able to make a credible introduction to a new customer,” advises Adrian Roach, Director of professional services company Extended Services & Projects (es-p), which has helped clients secure work worth more than £2.5 billion in its five years of trading.
“Also look at opportunities to upsell or cross-sell services to your existing customers. If someone isn’t buying from you, why, and what can you do to change that?” she says.
Angelique Robb, owner of Aberdeen-based Papillon Designs and Landscaping, used to concentrate on her core service of garden design and landscaping, but customers began asking for unique and resilient garden furniture that could withstand the Scottish climate during the winter. Now she sources and sells this furniture both to gardening customers and online, and has experienced impressive growth in demand.
“We started selling furniture online because clients were asking for it,” she explains. “Now we have opened up these products to everyone.”
Business Essentials members can access FSB Business Leads, which can help you find new customers and deliver high-quality marketing campaigns. For more information, visit fsb.org.uk/benefits
Jackson Fire and Security, based in Cheshire and North Wales, has built up its customer offering in recent years from purely supplying extinguishers to moving into security equipment such as burglar alarms and CCTV.
“Security is more of a worry for people these days, plus tighter legislation means that businesses need their fire safety regularly maintained and updated, so we’ve built up our offering,” says Marketing Manager Rachel Evans.
The company has also built up a regional franchise network of nine branches as it acquires new contracts across the country. This has meant it can offer its full range of services to a fresh market of potential customers.
“We’re not relying on just one contract in that area; we can build up other business with targeted marketing campaigns,” says Ms Evans.
Robin Waite, a business coach, says a good way to follow this example is to “productise” the services you offer to attract new customers.
“If you want to generate sustainable revenue, focus on one core thing you can sell again and again at a fixed price – then you can always add the higher-value stuff on top,” he advises.
There’s still uncertainty about what the trade deal will be once the UK has formally left the European Union in 2019, so it’s worth thinking about exploring new international markets that could provide an alternative source of revenue.
“No firm is too small to export, or innovate,” says Chris McDonald, FSB Policy Chair for Innovation and Enterprise. FSB Wales has been working with members on how to capitalise on markets beyond the EU once Brexit has happened.
“Our research into Brexit and small businesses in Wales showed that SMEs are positive about taking advantage of new markets, but this research also shows that they need more support to ensure that they are fully equipped to do this,” explains Ben Cottam, FSB Head of External Affairs for Wales.
One example of exporting success is brewing company Tiny Rebel, from Newport, which joined a delegation to Shanghai and Hong Kong earlier this year as part of a Welsh trade and culture mission. The trip was a chance for Tiny Rebel to meet current and potential export customers – the company now has customers in 35 countries.
When considering international markets, however, it’s important to get to know your customer and refine your product accordingly. Shaherazad Umbreen, founder of Shoes by Shaherazad, now exports 60 per cent of her products.
She developed an 18-carat-gold shoe line specifically for customers in the Middle East that retails for around £4,000.
“It’s about picking the right market and knowing what they want – the US is popular but so competitive – so I looked into where my product would be wanted,” she says.
Ms Umbreen was also persistent when it came to getting Government assistance to market her shoes abroad: “You keep having to find ways to approach Government departments. I was turned away from UK Trade & Investment [now the Department for International Trade] six or seven times until I met someone at an event who realised this was the type of business they could promote abroad.”
One common mistake for many small businesses is to broadcast their web presence across as many social media channels as possible, rather than targeting their marketing to those that will provide the best-quality leads.
“In terms of choosing the correct social channels for your business, remember that each has its own unique identity, so engage with those platforms that match your audience and product or service,” advises Riki Neill, founder of integrated marketing agency RNN Communications.
Liam Foy, Head of Social at Bring Digital, agrees. He says: “Focus on customers’ needs and likes, and use tools such as Facebook Audience Insights to get an understanding of what might engage them.”
Online buzzwords such as SEO (search engine optimisation) can prove daunting for small business managers, but that doesn’t mean you have to pay thousands to outsource these activities to experts. Ms Umbreen from Shoes by Shaherazad taught herself how to improve her web presence and Google rankings.
“Social media companies will make all sorts of promises,” she says. “I decided to grow my online business organically. If someone buys the product and likes it, they can write about it and I share that online.”
FSB Business Profiling can help you assess the strength of your digital presence. For
more information, visit fsb.org.uk/benefits
An effective way to gain extra publicity is to track down exhibitions or trade shows for your market, many of which have awards programmes. But plan ahead, advises Ms Neill.
“How many times has a company booked a trade show at the last minute to get the best rate, panicked about what the space would look like and then pulled in favours to man
the stand?” she says.
“A much more strategic approach would be to book it six months out, agree what a good result looks like and create a communications strategy to achieve this.”
Contributing to the PR campaign around the exhibition, as well as aligning your social media activity with others’ posts from the show, will enhance your investment even more.
FSB member Daksha Mistry runs a swimwear brand, Incy Wincy, targeted at incontinence sufferers, and in 2010 started manufacturing her own products under the Kes-Vir label.
“I use exhibitions to speak to professionals about what their clients’ needs are, and enter their awards,” she says.
“This generates its own publicity and shows there are lots of things you can do without spending money.”
Two of her self-manufactured products have gained second and third prizes at popular continence conferences, raising awareness of her products among her key audience.
“Start with the end in mind,” suggests Mr Waite. “A good plan is to focus on what happened this year and what direction this will send you in next year. If you plan to gain 10 clients, break that down and work backwards from there. How many consultations will that require? Who will you have available to deliver that business?”
A key element of success is how you staff your business, according to Ms Evans at Jackson Fire and Security. “At first we got engineers to run our branches, but this was limiting because they were needed on customer sites,” she recalls.
“Now we’ve set up a model where there’s a branch manager who looks after project management, getting new business and running the office so that the engineers can focus on providing their service.”
Papillon Designs and Landscaping has also learned that getting recruitment right can affect overall productivity. “I now employ seven people but at one point we were a team of 11,” says Ms Robb.
“Employing more people meant that communication was more difficult and more
mistakes were happening. This has taught me to pay attention to people’s strengths, as
then you get the best out of them.”
Ms Robb now uses her small core team plus a trusted group of subcontractors, and ensures that staff work on what they’re best at, whether managing a team or building the landscapes. That’s a strategy any business looking to become more productive can deploy.